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Fran Blinebury

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After the Sonics signed Vin Baker to a massive deal, his production began to decline.
Jeff Reinking /NBAE/Getty Images

If we could do it all over again ...


Posted Sep 1 2010 1:39PM

Admittedly, not every team celebrates the signing of free agents with a championship-style victory party ala the Miami Heat with LeBron James and Chris Bosh. But just short of trumpets heralding, summer is the time when every acquisition fits like a custom-made glove and each move carefully calculated to produce a checkmate in the upcoming season.

After all, you've never seen a general manager stand before a row of TV cameras and a bank of microphones and say, "I hope we didn't just toss several sacks full of our owners' money out the window."

But, of course, it happens. Call them the "Oops! Moments." They usually start arriving in January or February and can leave a franchise muttering far worse things for years to come.

Here's a look back at 10 of the all-time "Oops! Moments" in NBA history while wondering if anyone from the Free Agent Class of 2010 will join the list:

Jon Koncak (Hawks) -- If there is a Dashboard Jesus for free agent wannabes, Koncak is the patron saint of flash-in-the-pan free agents who hit the lottery. Four seasons into an utterly journeyman career as a backup big man, he averaged 13 points and 10 rebounds in Atlanta's first-round playoffs loss to Milwaukee. The Hawks rewarded him for that effort with an unprecedented six-year, $13 million contract that pales by comparison to today's numbers. But at the time it made "Jon Contract" the owner of a higher salary than Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan. He played six more seasons in Atlanta and one in Orlando, never averaging more than 4.2 points or 5.5 rebounds per game.

Gilbert Arenas (Wizards) -- There were three prior All-Star appearances and a bundle of points scored, including that 60-point explosion against Kobe and the Lakers. But what have the Wizards gotten for their trouble ever since Arenas opted out of his contract and they re-signed him to a six-year, $111 million deal in July 2008? Due to an assortment of injuries, he missed 80 games in 2008-09 and then was suspended for the final 50 games of last season after the infamous locker room gun incident. Now he's still owed $80 million over the next four years by a team that is picking up the pieces and starting over. In addition, a market research poll found Arenas to be one of the most disliked people in sports.

Brian Grant (Heat) -- Long before he was turning over the keys to the kingdom to LeBron James and Chris Bosh, Heat president Pat Riley gave Grant a seven-year deal worth $86 million and declared him the "missing piece to the championship puzzle." In the next four seasons in Miami, Grant's numbers were a middling 11 points and 7.5 rebounds a game. By the time the Heat won the crown in 2006, Grant was long gone, finishing up his NBA career with a season each in L.A. and Phoenix averaging 3.8 and 2.9 points .

Joe Smith (Wolves) -- There are plenty of free agents who don't live up to the money they're paid. But only Smith took down an entire franchise when his illegal arrangement with the Minnesota Timberwolves was exposed. After three solid if unspectacular seasons at Golden State and Philadelphia, the No. 1 pick in the 1995 draft agreed to a series of three one-year contracts with the Timberwolves that would pay him $1.7 million, $2.1 million and $3.6 million. It was revealed that Minnesota owner Glen Taylor had agreed to an under-the-table arrangement that would then pay Smith between $40 million and $86 million over the next seven years. The deal was ruled as circumvention of the salary cap and commissioner David Stern voided Smith's last two contracts, fined the team $3.5 million and stripped the Wolves of five consecutive No. 1 draft picks.

Vin Baker (Sonics) -- He was still a star on the rise out of the University of Hartford when Baker averaged 21 points and 10.3 rebounds during his fourth NBA season in Milwaukee. That output produced a three-team trade that landed him in Seattle, where he averaged 19.2 points and 8 rebounds, and was rewarded with a seven-year, $86 million contract. Baker than began a long, steady declined, fueled by alcoholism, that saw him bounce to five different teams over the last five years of his career, averaging double figures just once. In his final season (2005-06), he scored just 3.4 ppg for the L.A. Clippers.

Elton Brand (Sixers) -- When he signed a five-year, $80 million deal to jump from the L.A. Clippers to Philadelphia in the summer of 2008, Brand was supposed to be the missing piece that would give the Sixers a low post presence and make them a solid contender with the elite teams in the Eastern Conference. Instead shoulder surgery eventually forced him out for 53 games in his first season in Philly, then he has a less-than-satisfying second year (13.1 ppg, 6.1 rpg) as he battled with then-coach Eddie Jordan over playing time and his role on the team. Now entering his third year on the whopping contract, Brand is still trying to justify the price tag and the enthusiasm that had greeted his arrival.

Peja Stojakovic (Hornets) -- It seemed like a good idea at the time. In fact, club owner George Shinn was cackling loudly in Las Vegas on the summer day in 2006 when the Hornets inked Stojakovic to a five-year, $64 million contract. The plan was to put the Serbian sharpshooter into the New Orleans lineup as the wingman to feed off Chris Paul's passes. Trouble is, Stojakovic has chronic back problems. The one season when he was healthy and able to shoot 44.1 percent on 3-pointers, the Hornets won 56 games and were No. 2 in the West. But the other three years were duds and now they can't wait to get out from under the final $15.3 million due this season.

Jermaine O'Neal (Pacers) -- Sometimes the best deals are the ones you don't make. The San Antonio Spurs were coming off their second NBA title when they made O'Neal a max contract offer to jump from Indiana. But the promising young big man decided to stay in Indiana, signing a seven-year, $126 million deal that started him on a slow downward spiral that had him in and out of the lineup with injuries. By the end of the contract last season, he was "earning" $22 million for producing 13.6 points and 7 rebounds per game in Miami. It says all you need to know that he jumped at Boston's offer of the full mid-level exception for the upcoming season.

Jim McIlvaine (Sonics) -- Evidently the Seattle SuperSonics were just warming up for what would become their Vin Baker mistake when they signed the underwhelming big man McIlvaine to a seven-year contract worth $34 million. Never mind that in his two prior NBA seasons in Washington, McIlvaine had never averaged more than 2.3 points and 2.9 rebounds. The Sonics were coming off a loss in the Finals to Michael Jordan and the Bulls and believed they needed a solid big man in the middle to get them over the top. The move signaled the beginning of the end in Seattle for Shawn Kemp, who was upset at the deal given McIlvaine, whose first season with the Sonics was the best of his six-year career -- 3.8 points and 4 rebounds.

Raef LaFrentz (Nuggets) -- After picking up LaFrentz in a mid-season trade from Denver, where he was averaging 14.9 points and 7.4 rebounds, the Mavericks proved that old saying about having a lot more money than sense. When the jump-shooting forward/center became a free agent in the summer of 2002, they awarded him a seven-year contract worth $70 million. Over the next six seasons, LaFrentz averaged double figures in scoring just once, never again rebounded at a 7-per-game clip and in his final NBA season with Portland was regarded largely as a trading chip due to his large, expiring contract. Still, they couldn't deal him.

Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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